Tom and I travelled to Virginia Beach this past week to attend the weeding of our niece who joined the Navy after high school. It was a beautiful wedding as this cute Petty Officer/chef married her own Navy hero.
Nikki's decision to join the Nay shocked us all. She had always been a sweetheart--kind, gentle, loving--but quiet and shy. She took a look at her life and realized she would have to make some big changes if she wanted to broaded her choices, so she spent enlisted with a delay, spent the summer getting into shape at the gym and running, and headed off for Basic Training. We were amazed by her determination.
The woman who emerged from Basic Training was very different from the girl who began. Her best friend who enlisted with her, didn't complete the program and opted out, but Nikki stuck it out and became a powerhouse, inside and out. her confidence was up, her body was sculpted, her view of the world was broadened, and perhaps most importantly of all, her view of people was expanded.
Our military is a multicultural, gender-blended military, and Nikki emerged with friends that crossed all color, religious, economic, educational, and ethnic lines. This segment of American society has pushed past the trivialities these barriers pose to many of the rest of the country, and they've learned to value people based on what matters most--loyalty, dependability, performance, and effort. It was so evident at her wedding where the majority of the guests were brown-skinned or black, where back-pats, handshakes, laughter, singing, dancing, hugging, and hand-shaking abounded. It was beautiful.
Nikki chose culinary arts as her specialty and she has been responsible for catering many five-star admirals and their guests. A mother and wife now, she has a career that will transfer beautifully to the private sector if and when she decides to exit the Navy.
She met her husband while they were stationed, of all places, on Tinker Air Force Base, a strange assignment for two Navy people, or so I thought. But I've learned that the branches of the military support one another, and that's why these two sailors were there.
For a variety of reasons, our extended family is very small, and sadly, Nikki grew up with few cousins, aunts, uncles or even grandparents. That changed for her on Sunday. Her husband, Gerod, hails from an extraordinary family where love, laughter, and loyalty to family are evident, and on Sunday I watched this large supportive family draw Niki, her mom, and her brothers, into their circle as their own.
This Navy Lady got her sailor, and in the journey to this day, she picked up a brave, broad, diverse world of friends, drawn from America's finest. It was an honor to be there for her big day. Many thanks to all our military people and their families. Tom's work draws us close to military brass, but Sunday we enjoyed the company of many enlisted men and women and vets. Few of us know the stress their service poses to their marriages and families. Deployment is hard. It requires something extraordinary in a union to endure these separations. Sadly, the divorce rates are high, and on the way to divorce, they often ruin one another financially, leaving soldiers, sailors, and marines mired in debt for years. The combo sets up a perfect storm for depression, and with the added stress of battle, it's easy to see why suicide rates are also on the rise.
So take a moment and celebrate that two of these military heroes found love and happiness, and give thanks every day to all the military men and women, and to their families, for all they sacrifice to give us the gift of peace.